The Post (Lusaka)

Zambia: Country's Growing Unemployment Crisis

editorial

Lusaka — There is a serious crisis of unemployment that needs all our attention.

The number of people without jobs is frightening. There are thousands of young people every year who are coming out of secondary schools who can neither find college or university places nor employment. There is also a large number of our young people coming out of colleges and universities who can't find jobs. And those who are being retrenched have serious difficulties finding another job. Some of them try to get into business but not everyone can be a businessperson. Those with high education levels try to get into consultancies but again not every educated person can be a consultant.

Already acute urban problems risk spiralling out of control if the trend towards high unemployment is not reversed. This unemployment and poverty in which our young people have been worst affected pose a serious challenge to the security and stability of our country. This trend also stands in sharp contrast to the targeted Millennium Development Goals which bind our government to develop and implement strategies that give young people across the breadth and width of our country a real chance to find decent and productive work.

However, the reality before us and the empirical evidence that is there suggests that the strategies adopted by our government over the last 15 years continues to push the number of unemployed youths upwards. The youth unemployment rate has been increasing in every part of our country.

And the link between youth unemployment and social seclusion has been clearly established; an inability to find a job creates a sense of vulnerability, useless and idleness among young people and can heighten the attraction of engaging in illegal activities.

No doubt the increase in crime being witnessed in our country today owes much to youth unemployment. The young's unemployment in Zambia can be attributed to the structural transformation of our economy carried out in the last 15 years, based on the notion that free global market forces will increase growth and reduce unemployment and poverty. And over the last 15 years inequality has increased at a rate never seen in our country. In other words control over assets and resources is increasingly concentrated in the hands of few people. If sharp increases in inequality persist, they may have dire effects on human development and social stability. Our experience is that the little economic growth that is being recorded or an average increase per capita income arising out of an increase in national income does not necessarily mean a reduction in unemployment and poverty.

The distributional aspect of an increase in national income cannot be ignored when we talk about poverty and unemployment. Precisely, it is for this reason that many progressive people in our country have been demanding the adoption of a pro-poor growth strategy. This is because cross-country evidence suggests that greater distribution equity can accelerate growth and that there is no inherent trade-offs between growth and equity.

In essence, what is being demanded is a fundamental change in the policies hitherto practiced to a more humane macro-economic, trade and social development framework that is directed to job-led economic growth.

During the last 15 years, our government was induced by the donors and international finance agencies to make investment in social sectors development, particularly in education. However, this assistance was provided for primary and middle level general education so as to increase literacy among the youth. A huge domestic investment made in this type of general education bore no relationship with the requirements of the job market. There result was that a mismatch between the demand and supply of labour has created a large force of unemployed youths in our country.

In order to strike a balance, it is essential that a national employment opportunities plan in consultation with all stakeholders should be drawn, taking into account the existing shortages in various vocations and the projected demand of labour force. The education policy should then be integrated with this employment plan. An ad hoc approach of providing social safety nets, in whatever form, cannot offer a long-term solution to the problem.

And it is time we realised that the neo-liberal policies being imposed on us by donors and finance agencies will not, and have never been able to, solve the problem of unemployment anywhere in the world.

Unemployment in our country, especially in the young population, and its fallout in the form of crime can only be solved by embarking on the path of a job-led economic growth. If this fundamental change does not take place the problem of youth unemployment cannot be addressed.

And it is the duty of the government to create jobs by whichever means necessary. If the government cannot get the private sector to create jobs then it has to move in itself directly and do so. There is no economic theory that can be justifiably invoked to stop the government from doing so. In our situation, it would appear, a developmental state is inevitable if we have to harbour any chance of addressing the challenges of unemployment and poverty among our people, especially they youths.

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